Visit Skopje : What To See And Do In North Macedonia Capital City
Like with most of the Balkan countries North Macedonia is a place I have not heard much about. Originally known as the Republic of Macedonia after it was declared independent from Yugoslavia in 1991 it has this year been renamed due to a 27-year dispute with Greece, which has its own area called Macedonia.
It wasn’t until my tour of the Balkans where I visited the capital Skopje and Ohrid that I realised how interesting this country is. I think it is going to become a popular destination in the future as there is actually quite a lot to see.
My first stop in North Macedonia was Ohrid which was a beautiful lakeside area and totally different experience from the capital Skopje.
After driving for 1.5 hours we reached the Skopje our second stop in North Macedonia. After a quick check in to our hotel we did a side trip to Kosovo which was only 30 minutes’ drive away and a chance to tick another country off my list.
Read more about my super quick visit to Kosovo
A day in Skopje: Capital of North Macedonia
My first glimpse of Skopje was at night and it looked beautiful all lit up but I didn’t how much there was to see until we did the walking tour the next morning.
Skopje was nearly completed destroyed in 1963 by a devastating earthquake. Over 1070 people were killed and over 200000 left homeless when 80 % of the city was destroyed. Survivors contributed financially to the rebuilding of the city with support coming from 35 other countries. Several streets and objects in Skopje were named in honour of the countries which helped in their construction.
Skopje is a strange place to visit but it was actually one of my favourite places on my Balkan tour and I think that was mainly because I had never heard of the place so didn’t know what to expect but also due to all the monuments. I could have spent hours looking at them in greater detail.
Skopje 2014 was a project to create buildings and over 40 monuments, it has been greatly criticised due to the cost which is estimated at over $700 million but it is now starting to bring in tourists so I think opinions are changing however that is still a hell of a lot of money.
Our walking tour started at the old railway station which suffered badly during the 1963 earthquake. The clock on the façade is stuck at 5.17 a constant reminder of when the earthquake hit Skopje. The building was reconstructed but it now home to the museum of Skopje and the railway has moved into the main city.
Read more about Dark Tourism of The Old Train Station in Skopje
It was then a leisurely walk to Macedonia Square. I visited Skopje on a Sunday morning 8am and it was also a holiday weekend so a lot of the locals had gone out of town but it was eerily quiet apart from when a cyclist would ride by and then the local stray dogs would give chase barking at the riders to the point where most of them dismounted and walked by rather that riding.
There are so many stray dogs our tour guide explained how people just dump puppies and old dogs in the city. The government has tried to take control by castrating them and giving vaccinations, but it is just uncontrollable. The dogs we saw all had yellow tags in their ears. They followed our group like they were listening to our tour guide and were well behaved until a bike or car went by and they gave chase and then calmly walked back to the group.
No one in our group fed the dogs but they still followed us all over the city we obviously didn’t get too close or stroke them as we weren’t sure how they would react. I wish I had some doggy biscuits with me though as they all looked so sad.
Even though the city has these beautiful buildings and monuments there is still something lacking it might have been because it was so deserted or maybe it was due to wilted flowers beds a few pretty flowers and removal or the tagging graffiti would make a world of difference.
I am surprised I hadn’t heard more about Skopje as it is the birthplace of Mother Teresa. There is a memorial plaque where her house once stood, a wonderful statue of her and the Mother Teresa Memorial House which is dedicated to the Nobel prize winner.
There were pictures of the older missionary that we are all familiar with and also images of her as a young lady and she was actually quite pretty.
The museum is at the location of where the church was that Mother Teresa then known as Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu was baptised. It is an interesting building designed like nothing I have seen before. Unfortunately, the museum doesn’t open until 9am so we couldn’t visit inside.
Find out more about mother Teresa memorial house here
There were still some buildings that didn’t get completely destroyed during the earthquake, I loved the building below which was on the street where Mother Teresa memorial house is. And when you walk a few metres along into the main square you will spot a totally different contrast in architecture with soviet concrete looking buildings.
I was busy taking photos when we arrived at mother Teresa’s birth place so I was looking for a house whilst everyone was gathered by a tree so I was slightly confused, it wasn’t until I got to the front of the group I noticed it was a plaque rather than an existing house will teach me to wander off when the tour guide is explaining things.
Monuments in Skopje
Back to the monuments in Skopje, as I said there are over 40 and it is impossible for me to name them all as even though our guide explained some of them and what they represented I sort of zoned out of what she was saying and was too busy looking at them, I loved them.
My favourite was in the river as I loved the little legs of the statue divers poking out of the water. It was a fun statue but some of the others were a lot more serious. I also loved the Mother Teresa statue as she is such a heroic woman that I have grown up hearing about.
I saw the Millennium Cross lit up at night when we came back over the Kosovo border. I tried to get a picture of it, but it was hard on a moving coach, but I loved how it could be seen nearly all of our drive back to the hotel.
The Millennium Cross is still impressive in daylight. It is a 66-meter tall cross, built on top Vodno Mountain in 2002 to commemorate 2,000 years of Christianity in Macedonia. You can get closer to the cross by cable car or on a local tour.
Warrior on a horse which I believe is Alexander The Great is the biggest and grandest of the monuments in Skopje. It was in the centre of the pedestrianised area which meant you could admire from far or get up close for a proper exploration.
However, Skopje isn’t the only place in North Macedonia with beautiful monuments they seem to be all over the country.
See here for top North Macedonia monuments.
The Old National Theatre has been restored, it is worth visiting as it has some lovely statues outside.
Is Skopje accessible
I found it easy to walk around Skopje, it is flat in the main city and well paved in most areas. There were plenty of benches and places to sit and rest whilst exploring the capital.
By the main square the floor looked as though it could be slippery when wet. There were also several broken slabs, so it is important to look where your walking.
The Turkish bazaar were little streets with cobbles which was still Ok for me to walk on I just had to pay more attention so I didn’t trip, but we were walking at a leisurely pace.
I didn’t use public transport so cannot comment but the buses are like the red double decker buses from London as a tribute to London who lent the city buses after the earthquake, I loved this story.
Other things to see in Skopje
If you get bored of looking at monuments you can explore the old Turkish Bazaar situated on the eastern bank of the river Vardar. as I mentioned I visited early Sunday morning and the shops were only just starting to open but we walked around and it I bet it is bustling when everything is open. There were some lovely coffee shops and restaurants in this area.
The stone bridge was lovely to walk over with stunning views of the buildings along the river and what looked like a pirate ship. It is strange that there are 3 pirate ships in a landlocked country but there are a few things about Skopje that are a little bizarre which is why some people refer to the city as quirky.
There is also a 6th century Skopje fortress to explore.
Close to Skopje is Matka Canyon which is a perfect place to kayak with the most beautiful views.
Where to stay in Skopje
There are plenty of places to stay in Skopje to meet your needs and budget. We stayed at the Hotel Panormika which was out of main area and on a steep hill luckily my mobility limitations did not get in the way as I either used our tour bus or a taxi to the entrance of the hotel. I am however mentioning this hotel as it was one of my favourite hotels on my Balkans trip. It was super modern, exceptionally clean and had one of the most interesting breakfasts which was more like a lunch buffet.
How to Enjoy your trip to Skopje
There is actually a lot of things to see in Skopje that a couple of days would be a great duration to visit and leisurely explore the city.
I didn’t eat in Skopje as we were there for such a short amount of time but here is an example of a menu at a restaurant in the Turkish bazaar.
The currency is Macedonian Dinar, there are ATMS and money exchange but most places except euros. I never exchanged any money as I got by with euro or my Monzo currency card.
I was warned by our tour guide to be wary of taxi drivers who might try to rip us off. Our hotel was situated a little out of the city and we were told it would be 2 euros in a taxi, but the taxi drivers would try and get away with 5 but we had to be firm and say no it’s 2 euros. I ended up getting a taxi on my own and I had 3 euros ready as it seemed like quite a long drive was about 10 minutes and that would cost a lot more in the UK. Anyway, when I arrived at the hotel the metre said 300 Macedonia dinar which is a little more at around 4 euros (exchange rate as of May 2019) but he said 3 euros and since that what I had in my hand I was happy to pay. I didn’t feel ripped off and I later found out others from the group paid 300 dinars to get back, so our guide was slightly out.
Have you visited Skopje? What did you love to have I missed something, please let me know I had less than 24 hours in Skopje and feel that I could have spent a bit longer soaking up the culture.
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